May 7, 2018 Rome to Sorrento, Italy

Popes Palace Formal Gardens

Popes Palace Chapel

Popes Palace Hall

Located about 16 miles southeast of Rome we visited the small town of Castel Gandolfo with about 9,000 inhabitants. This scenic community has served as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the pope at the Papal Palace of Castle Gandolfo. The Lateran Treaty of 1929, in which Vatican City was recognized as an independent country, gave the Villa Barberini Castle–along with the adjacent Villa del Morro and Villa Cybo–to the Vatican. The adjoining Lake Albano is surrounded by summer residences, villas, and cottages, many of which were built during the 17th century. The lake was also home to the rowing events during the Rome Olympics.

The grounds were expanded later by Pope Pius XI by acquiring some additional land as a small farm. Today the farm has many chickens, cows, sheep and other animals. The grounds of the villas are exquisitely maintained by twenty full and part time gardeners. There are fountains, statuary, boxwood gardens, and a huge variety of walking paths and terraces, plants and flowers. The grounds are approximately 135 acres in size.

The Pope’s residence is a three-story palace where the first floor is occupied by office space when the Pope is in residence. On the second floor are photos, vestments and memorabilia from all of the Popes. The third floor is the main living quarters of the Pope with many rooms where the Pope can have private meetings with parishioners, an office space, sitting rooms, a small chapel and a large bedroom. The current Pope (Francis) does not visit the residence and prefers instead to make visits to a neighboring monastery in the woods near the lake. The residence has been open to the public as a museum for the last few years.

During World War II it is said that Pope Pius XII opened up the grounds of the Castel to refugees escaping the fighting in Rome. On January 22, 1944, the first of what became 12,000 people began arriving, bringing with them cows, horses, mules and sheep. Included were many Roman Jews, and other non-Catholics. During the time they lived there, 36 children were born, many of whom were named after the Pope. It is believed that the Pope’s private apartment was converted into a nursery to house all of the new born children.

After our tour of the Pope’s summer residence we traveled by bus about four hours including a break for a quick lunch at a roadside stop. We checked into the Towers Hotel before heading out to see the town of Sorrento. The drive into town was along a twisting turning road along soaring steep cliffs jutting up from the sea. The town is very hilly and covered with homes, vineyards, citrus gardens, vegetable gardens and Kiwi vines. The town is very charming with many shops along a pedestrian street, cobblestone streets and window boxes with colorful flowers. Views from many restaurants overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea.

For dinner we headed to a very large restaurant overlooking the sea (although it had begun to rain and so we were unable to enjoy the outdoors and the skies were gray and filled with clouds). For dinner we started with an appetizer plate of cheese, prosciutto, salami and deep-fried pasta dumplings. Next came a slice of pizza before an entrée course of pasta and ravioli. This was followed by a shot of the local liquor Limoncello and a pastry similar to pound cake covered in a lemon cream.

May 6 Rome, Italy

 

Rome’s Spanish Steps

Altar Della Patria

Rome’s Trevi Fountain

Rome’s Colosseum

 

Rome is the capital of Italy with a population of approximately 4.3 million inhabitants. There is archaeological evidence that Rome has been inhabited by humans for at least 14,000 years. Everywhere you walk or drive in the city you come across historical buildings, remnants of walls from bygone eras, museums, monuments, fountains, squares and architecturally interesting buildings.

The buffet breakfast in our hotel was very plentiful. They had a selection of cereals and yoghurts, breads, cheeses, meats, bacon, eggs, fruits, coffee and more.

After breakfast we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour around the city to refresh our memory of the city since it has been 20 years since we were last in Rome. The city tour took us to many of the main sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Castle Saint Angelo, the grand building of justice as well as many parks, fountains and monuments. Everywhere we went it was extremely busy with tourists from all over the world. The bus ride took more than two hours to make one loop of the city tour.

After the bus tour we walked down the Spanish Steps and visited the famed Trevi Fountain before heading back to our hotel. We stopped along the way at a small Italian café where we had lasagna and tiramisu for lunch. By that I mean Mark had the lasagna and Kent had the tiramisu.

Our first meeting with the Globus tour group we are traveling with met in the breakfast room for a meeting at 5:00pm. Out tour leader is a gentleman from the Sorrento area by the name of Giacomo. Our group of 40 is a bit larger than we are used to traveling with when we travel with Vantage Travel. Most of the Vantage Travel tour groups are only about 24 guests.

After our initial meeting we were taken by bus to a local restaurant called Ristorante Mino where we enjoyed a welcome dinner. The dinner started with a lovely plate of melon and prosciutto and a bruschetta (a large thick slice of bread grilled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, celery and basil). Next, they served us a pasta course consisting of a slice of lasagna and a scoop of tube pasta with mushrooms and peas in a cream sauce. The main course consisted of two slices of pork roast with roasted white potatoes. For dessert they served a berry ice cream with a fresh berry sauce. They also served unlimited bottles of red and white wine, soft drinks and bottled water.

Kent and I sat with three ladies from Adelaide, Australia who are traveling together. They were very friendly and were having a lot of fun chatting over dinner about most everything.

May 4-5 San Diego to Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Altar Made of Bronze

 

 

St. Peter’s Basilica Statuary

Our early morning flight departed San Diego at 6:15am bound for Newark, New Jersey, we had about a three-hour layover before departing for Rome, Italy. We arrived in Rome about 8:00 in the morning local time. There were a tremendous number of visitors and very little supervision in the custom’s hall where we needed to wait in lines for an hour or so to have our passports stamped before entering the country. My brand-new piece of “It” luggage guaranteed for life against breakage was dented but survived the airport baggage service. We took a shared taxi into Rome to the Della Conciliazione Hotel just a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. The hotel is fairly small with only 67 rooms but it is neat, clean and has everything we could need for our short visit here.

As our room was not yet ready, we took the short walk to St. Peter’s Basilica where we had a small wait to go through metal detectors before entering the spectacular cathedral. Marble covers nearly every square inch of the massive cathedral, from statues to the floors and walls. Thousands of visitors were roaming the church snapping photos everywhere. They call St. Peter’s the largest Christian church in the world as it covers 5.7 acres of land, 448-foot-tall dome, 163,200 square feet of floor space.

We stopped at a local restaurant near our hotel for a bite to eat before returning to our hotel. Many of the local restaurants set up tables and chairs under umbrellas in the streets and alley ways for guests to dine al fresco. For lunch we tried the pork sausage filled olives breaded and deep fried. Interesting flavor and texture but not necessarily something to rush back for. Kent had the gnocchi with pesto sauce and Mark had a very dry and a bit flavorless four cheese pizza. The pizza had a small amount of cheese melted on a nice piece of dough but no sauce and not much spice. We were sharing our plates so the waiter asked if we were brothers: if you are men and you eat off the same plate you must be related!

We were able to check into the hotel about 2:00pm and immediately collapsed on the bed and were fast asleep for about three hours. After our nap we took a nice walk to the Plaza Navona in the center of town by crossing the Tiber River on an ornately decorated pedestrian bridge. All of the railing posts had elaborate sculptures of dragons and gargoyles. It was lightly raining but lots of people were out walking the streets, eating in the outdoor cafes and restaurants.

For dinner we stopped into a very small pasta shop near our hotel. This small shop only has a license to sell a very limited number of items like pastas and drinks and is not allowed to serve food on real dishes. They serve the pasta in plastic bowls and the drinks in plastic cups. The owner was very welcoming and happy to chat with his guests. He said that he felt his beautiful city was now in a state of decline and he found it very frustrating. He was concerned about things like the poor condition of the roads and the fact that young people are too busy on their cell phones to speak to the people around them. When we told him that this was the same in San Diego, he could not help but translate it into Italian and tell some other guests at a nearby hotel. He was surprised that in America we might have problems with our streets.

We returned to our hotel by 9:00pm and retired for the night.

October 18, 2017 Luang Prabang/San Diego

Luang Prabang Monks

Luang Prabang Market

On our last morning in Luang Prabang we rose at 5:30am to help feed the local monk community out in front of our hotel. Each morning hundreds of monks from 113 temples can be seen walking the streets collecting alms or food and money. Our group leader had arranged for long carpets to be placed in the street with tiny plastic chairs placed in a row. In front of each chair was a woven basket with a lid filled with cooked sticky rice, a staple in the diet of the local people. We were given sashes to wear and we had to remove our shoes as a sign of respect to the monks. As we were seated, the local monks paraded by us, open the lid on their pots and we would place a golf ball sized lump of sticky rice in each of the monks’ pots. They continued to come in several groups over a period of time of about 45 minutes. The locals start their day at 4:00am when they rise to begin cooking the sticky rice that they will give the monks that morning. They sit on small stools with fabric sashes as well. Very interesting.

Next, we were taken by minivan to the local morning market where the locals go each day to pick up groceries for the daily meals. The narrow alley ways were filled with one stand after the next and the locals were busy shopping for all things from the common to the exotic. The fresh fruits and vegetables were beautiful, the fish, poultry and meat not so appetizing, but then there was the exotic. We saw live chickens, live ducks, live bats, live crabs, live toads, barbecued rats, live eels, live snakes and most anything else you might could imagine.

By 11:00am we were headed to the airport for the long and exhausting trip home. From Lunag Prabang we flew about two hours to Bangkok where we had a four-hour layover. From Bangkok, we flew about three hours to Hong Kong where we had a 90-minute layover. From Hong Kong, we flew about 13 hours to Los Angeles. By this time, it was too late in the evening for us to fly to San Diego that night so we had to transfer to a local hotel for the night. The next morning after our 11-and-a-half-hour layover we flew the final one-hour flight to San Diego. A very long trip home, but glad that we went.

October 17, 2017 Luang Prabang

Royal Family Palace Museum Temple

Luang Prabang – Food being dried on the streets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weaving Village

Our first stop on this morning was at the former Royal Family Palace Museum and Residence called Haw Kham. Built for King Sisavang Vong and his family in 1904 during the French Colonial era, it was later occupied by Crown Prince Savang Vatthana and his family. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family was taken to what they called re-education camps and the palace was converted to a national museum. The palace was built within a large walled compound with lovely lily ponds, lush trees, meandering paths and green grass lawns.

We visited a temple located just inside the main gates of the property that houses the museums most prized art, a small Buddha called Phra Bang. The statue dating back to the first century was cast in Sri Lanka of gold, silver and bronze alloy and is about 33” tall and weighs about 110 pounds. Some question the authenticity of this Buddha being the original, but it is highly guarded and no photos are allowed. They require you to remove your shoes to climb about 20 steps to the entrance of the temple, but no one is allowed inside the door. You can only look through the open door.

The main residence is also highly guarded and they require you to leave all bags, large purses and cameras in lockers before being allowed into the building. The royal residence is very nicely preserved and is filled with much of the original furnishings, family jewels, wall murals and gifts to the royal family. Outside the residence there is a large garage where some of the royal family’s cars are preserved including an Edsel, a Jeep, a Lincoln and a few others. Outside there is a large statue of King Sisavang Vong on the palace grounds.

We then took a short drive to a local temple where we met with a local monk who seemed more interested in his phone than speaking with us. He did not speak English so Sone was interpreting our questions and relaying the answers to us. Not a highlight of the trip.

Our next stop was the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre where they celebrate the ethnic cultures and diversity of the Laos people. They have 49 ethnic groups and 15 languages in the country. The museum is small but had a nice assortment of handicrafts, traditional arts and displays about some of the local groups. The museum shop was very popular with our group and many folks purchased some of the handicrafts offered for sale.

We had a huge lunch at a local restaurant where the food did not stop coming. They served a beautiful array of local dishes like spring rolls, lemongrass chicken, chicken curry, vegetable soup, rice, stir fried vegetables, eggplant and dessert. Everything was delicious but way too much food.

In the afternoon, we took an optional tour to a local village where they create several types of handicrafts including silk weavings. In the local village, they grow the silk worms, process the silk yarn, dye the yarns, all before beginning the weaving process. This village also creates a lot of handmade paper which they sell to local artist for painting on, they create paper bags, they create wrapping papers and greeting cards. Of course, they had a gift shop where you could purchase the local items and many of our folks did some damage.

We then took a short walk down to the Mekong River’s bank where we boarded a boat for a sunset boat ride on the Mekong. Onboard they served us roasted peanuts, potato chips, wine, beer and soft drinks. The ride along the river was very nice although not too much to see other than the beautiful surrounding green mountains and a few homes and villages along the river.

Dinner was back in town at a local restaurant that served us many traditional Lao dishes that we had not seen previously. Things like chips made from river weeds and barbecued water buffalo which was very tough but tasty. The dishes were plentiful and we probably sent back to the kitchen more than we ate.

All in all, our visit to Laos was very interesting. We were not that enthralled with our visit to Vientiane but we really enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang. The small-town feel, the clean streets, the charming cafes, unique restaurants, local handicraft shops and more were all very interesting. The locals in Laos were not as friendly as in Myanmar.

October 16, 2017 Vientiane/Laung Prabang

Victoria Xiengthong Palace Hotel

Mekong River

Wat Xiang Thong Buddhist Temple

Wat Xiang Thong Temple

Baci Blessing

We departed Vientiane about 9:00am bound for the airport and our short flight to the former capital of Laos called Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang was the royal capital of the kingdom until as recently as 1975. During World War II the town saw many battles and was occupied for short times by several foreign countries including France, Thailand, Japan and China. By March of 1945 a nationalist group declared Laos once more independent. During the Loatian Civil War of the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s, a secret American airbase was located at Luang Prabang and it was the scene of fighting.

Our hotel for the next two nights was the Victoria Xiengthong Palace Hotel with only 26 rooms and located within the historic portion of town. This complex of restored Colonial style buildings was the residence of the last royal family of Laos. The rooms were beautifully furnished with large bathrooms, air conditioning, internet access and overlooking the Mekong River.

Luang Prabang translated means Royal Buddha Image and is located in north central Laos. Luang Prabang is made up of 58 adjacent villages, 33 of which comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, Luang Prabang is best known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. The population is about 60,000 people, with about 25,000 living within the World Heritage Site.

After checking into our hotel about 1:00pm we met for up with our local city guide by the name of Sone for an orientation of the area around our hotel. Many of us had lunch on our own at a lovely hotel and restaurant located at the point overlooking the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It was a quiet, tranquil location overlooking the lush green vegetation on the nearby mountains and the river banks covered in bamboo, bougainvillea, haleconia, plumeria, red ginger and a variety of tropical blooming plants.

Later in the afternoon we walked to a local Buddhist Temple complex called Wat Xieng Thong where we explored several of the temples, shrines, pavilions and gardens. Originally built about 1560 by Lao King Setthathirath, this temple was under the patronage of the royal family. There is a beautiful Funeral Chapel, a ceremonial barge with gold dragons on wheels for processions and a large gold Buddha in the main temple. Outside there is a pavilion housing several extremely long rowing boats used for racing on the Mekong. Each vessel carries about 60 rowers in single file, so you can imagine the length of the boats.

In the early evening, we took several vans to visit a nearby family home where they were to show us their local dances and to offer us a local blessing called the Baci Blessing. The Baci Blessing is used in the Lao culture to celebrate a special event like a wedding, homecoming, new baby, annual festival or in this case to welcome us to town as guests.

About a dozen local neighbors gathered to welcome us with a silver bowl arrangement standing about three feet tall and placed in the center of the room on the floor. In the silver bowls were an assortment of flowers, banana leaves, bamboo stalks, cotton threads and an assortment of local foods. The neighbors were all kneeling around the bowl on the floor.

An older gentleman considered the village elder who was an ex-monk led the ceremony, chanting a Buddhist mantra. The chanting by the elder was followed by the chanting of the mostly elder women neighbors. Each of the neighbors then took the cotton string from the bowl and tied a string around each of our wrists and offered a welcome blessing. Once each of us had several white cotton strings on each wrist, we were offered a variety of foods like small bananas, rice cakes, sweet sticky rice followed by a local rice whiskey, a potent liquor similar to moonshine. Next a group of local young girls dressing in ornate local dress performed several dances and several boys and a man accompanied them on local instruments.

We enjoyed a beautifully presented dinner at our hotel in a private dining room of the restaurant. They offered a variety of fixed dishes like a pumpkin soup, spring roll appetizers and dessert. We selected our entrée of fish, chicken or a vegetarian dish. It was all very good.

After dinner, we went into town a few blocks from our hotel to check out the local night market where there were hundreds of stalls selling local handicrafts and clothing. Lots of interesting things to look at but we left empty handed.

October 15, 2017 Vientiane, Laos

Hor Pha Keo Museum

Wat Si Muang Buddhist Temple

Sisaket Museum and Temple

Some of the 8,600 Buddhas

Pha That Luang Stupa

Reclining Buddha

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos with a population of one million residents.

Our first stop was the Hor Pha Keo Museum and former Buddhist Temple built in 1565 to house an emerald Buddha. The Buddha stayed in the temple for over 200 years until 1779 when it was seized by the Siamese general Chao Phraya Chakri who founded the current Chakri Dynasty of Thailand. The Buddha now resides in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. The structure today is used as a museum to house Laos religious art, particularly many Buddha’s in stone, bronze and wood. The museum is set in a beautiful park-like setting with many flowers, trees and grassy lawns.

Across the street was our next stop at the Sisaket Museum and Buddhist Temple built in 1818 where they display a collection of 6,800 Buddhas. Many of the Buddha images are seated in hundreds of small niches in the walls of the temple as well as in the large cloister walls surrounding the temple. The Buddhas mostly date from the 16th to 19th centuries and come in all sizes but the majority of them are less than six inches tall. The interior of the temple has very detailed murals on all of the interior walls depicting stories of the Buddha.

Our next stop was at Wat Si Muang Buddhist Temple originally built in 1563, but destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. This temple is unusual in that it is divided into two rooms. The front room was a quiet room with a monk giving blessings to the locals while the rear room included a main altar with many statues of Buddha. The grounds around this temple were extensive with many other brightly colored buildings, statues, gardens and burial shrines. This temple seems to be frequented by many locals who purchase flowers and fruits on the grounds to place on the altar of the Buddha. Many candles were being purchased as were marigold blossoms, popular with the locals for their golden orange color, the Buddha color.

Next we headed across town to see a very large gold colored, square shaped stupa called Pha That Luang and regarded as the most important national monument in Laos. The stupa is believed to have existed on this site since the 3rd century, although it has undergone multiple reconstructions over the years. It had been recently repainted and appears to be in excellent repair. The base of the Stupa is about 225 square and nearly 150 feet tall. Surrounding the stupa is grass and a covered portico where more historic artifacts are housed. In comparison to many of the stupa’s we have seen in Myanmar, this is built in a very simple style and lacks much ornamentation. Nearby the stupas there is another compound housing many more Buddhist temples including a large gold reclining Buddha.

We then proceeded to a local restaurant where we enjoyed the air conditioning, clean bathrooms and a Lao-style lunch. We had a soup with pork and cucumber, followed by rice, stir fried beef, stir fried vegetables, a pork stew with potatoes and fresh fruit for dessert.

After lunch we visited the Patuxai, Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph similar in style to the Arch d’ Triumph in Paris. The gate is a war monument built between 1957 and 1968 and dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. The monument has five towers that represent the five principles of coexistence among nations of the world. They are also representative of the five Buddhist principles of thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honor and prosperity. There are two interior stairways where we walked up to the observation deck on the top to overlook the city. There are also many large souvenir shops located inside the upper levels of the monument.

From the Victory Gate we headed to the local central market where they sell most everything you could imagine. This market consisted of a newer, air conditioned building with four floors next to an older multi-storied building filled with appliances, housewares, clothing, gold, souvenirs, menswear, ladies clothing, cosmetics and so much more. We spent about 30 minutes on our own looking around before meeting up and heading back to the hotel about 4:00pm.

For dinner we met up with Gloria, Aileen, Mary and Allyn for dinner in the hotels Chinese/Japanese restaurant. The staff did not speak good English and our Lao is non-existent so we had a little miscommunication. The waiter thought that two of us had ordered two plates of food because we told the waiter that he could put two of our orders on the same check. It worked out fine and he took the two extra orders off the bill without any trouble. The money here is the KIP which is exchanges at about 8,277 KIP to one US dollar making the calculation of items confusing.

October 14, 2017 Vientiane, Laos

Map of Laos

Manicures and Massage in the Park

Wires Everywhere

Dinner Entertainment

Kent and Mark at Dinner

We had a very early morning with a wake up call at 2:00am. We had to have our bags outside of our room at 2:45am ready for a 3:30am departure to the airport. The hotel provided boxed breakfast consisting of a mini croissant with a small piece of ham and cheese, a drinkable yoghurt, an apple, a hard boiled egg and a piece of cake.

We had to fly from Yangon to Bangkok, where we changed planes for a flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The connection time was very short between flights.  Bangkok Air had an excellent airport employee who escorted our group from one plane to the next and through the airport maze of security and immigration. For example, we disembarked the plane on the tarmac and were transported by bus to an international terminal where we had a good walk and had to go through another security check. They held the flight for us but when we arrived in Vientiane half of our luggage did not make the flight.

Laos is a landlocked country located between Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Its land area is slightly larger than the state of Utah. The population is about seven million, 65% of which are Buddhist. Laos has been independent since July 19th 1949 when it broke away from France. The national language is Lao.

Our hotel for the next two nights was the five-star Lao Plaza Hotel built in 1997 with 134 rooms. It is a simple, clean-lined hotel located in the business district and just a few blocks from the Mekong River and the border of Thailand.

Our local guide, Soane, took us for a walking tour around our hotel neighborhood to see the local businesses, restaurants, shops and the Mekong River. Most buildings are in poor repair and the sidewalks difficult to navigate. Traffic does not stop for pedestrians even though there are crosswalks so crossing the streets can be time consuming. While walking along the river there were several young ladies offering to give manicures, pedicures and back massages. A manicure was only $2 US, a price that is hard to beat anywhere in the world.

In the evening we walked to a local Lao restaurant where we had a traditional Lao dinner and were entertained by a five-member band and several dancers performing local dances in beautifully colorful outfits. The dinner started with a broth soup with onions, lemon grass, carrots and fresh ginger. The main courses included rice, chicken with herbs cooked in leaf wrappers, pork with an oyster sauce, stir fried vegetables, a ground chicken with spices and fresh herbs dish and deep fried chicken nuggets. For dessert we had fried bananas with honey and ice cream.

After dinner some folks went back to our hotel while some of us took tuck-tucks to the riverfront where there is a nightly market from about 5:00pm to 10:00pm every night. The market sold a lot of very inexpensive clothing well under $10 each, but you could also find electronics, souvenirs, and food. There were hundreds of stalls set up under red topped pop-up canopies with one light in each canopy.  Vendors disassemble their stands each night and put them up again the next night…..lots of work.

Our lost luggage arrived from the airport about 10:45pm which was a relief.

October 13, 2017 Yangon

Kent in the park in the rain

On this day there was an optional tour to the ancient town of Bago, but since Kent and I had been there when we were in Myanmar last year we skipped the excursion. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy, rainy and very humid so it was not a very nice day to do much exploring. We did take a walk across the street and around the lake in the rain. The park is very large and is located right in the middle of town surrounded by high rise buildings and high end neighborhoods because of the proximity to the lake.

In the afternoon we walked in a light rain and on very poor sidewalks to a neighborhood shopping mall a few blocks away. The mall was five stories tall and had a wide variety of merchandise like food, clothing, hair salons, appliances, housewares, jewelry, watches and more. It was very simple and not nearly as nice as any mall you might find in the states.

There was a plentiful farewell dinner in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant. We had egg rolls, barbecue pork and a fruit salad with shrimp. We then were served a corn soup. Main dishes included roast duck, sweet and sour fish, a beef dish, steamed vegetables, a fried noodle dish and white rice. Dessert was a custard dish and birthday cake from one of the guests who turned 75 years young. Wine, and tea were also served. It was a very nice celebration to complete our time in Myanmar before we headed to Laos the next day.

October 12, 2017 Yangon

Schwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Kent and Mark at one of the Temples at Shwedagon

Photo of the largest diamond at the top of the Shwedagon Pagoda

Colonial Courthouse in Downtown Yangon

Swimming Pool at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon

Yangon was the capital city of Myanmar until 2006 when it was moved to a newly built city called Naypyidaw in central Myanmar. Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar with about seven million residents. It has the largest number of colonial era buildings in southeast Asia and the colonial-era urban core is mostly intact. The commercial core of the city is believed to date back some 2,000 years.

Our first stop was at the Shwedagon Pagoda or Golden Pagoda. It is considered one of the wonders of the religious world. This spectacle is believed to be the earliest pagoda of the Gautama Buddha Era, built by King Okkalapa more than 2,500 years ago. Located on the top of Singuttara Hill, and visible from all over town, the gleaming golden stupa soars 326 feet tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. In the tradition of the Buddhist faith, we walked clockwise around the stupa to admire not only the beauty of the golden stupa but the many shrines around it. At the base of the stupa there are hundreds of smaller shrines, some for each day of the week, where you can pray, light a candle, place some flowers, or pour water over the shrines. Some of the shrines are small, while others are large enough to walk into and nearly all of them have Buddha statues standing, sitting or reclining. We had visited this site in 2016.

Next we visited the National Museum of Yangon, established in 1952. The current museum was opened in 1996 in an imposing five-story building with about 200,000 sq. ft. of display space. We saw all types of displays from Natural History and Prehistoric items to arts and crafts, performing arts items, jewelry, Buddhist art gallery and fine arts. It is a remarkable museum with a wide ranging collection from all over the country and we could have used more time than an hour to view the entire collection.

Next we stopped for a traditional Burmese lunch at a local restaurant called Padonmar. We enjoyed a watered down split pea soup starter, chicken curry, fish curry, beef curry, eggplant side dish with onions, stir fried vegetables and rice. Included were melon balls and fried banana with honey for dessert. It was a very nice meal and more than we could possibly eat.

Our next stop (photo stop) was at the Town Hall, built in 1905, across from the Sule Pagoda, at the center of town. There is a beautiful old colonial building that once housed the highest court in the nation, but is now abandoned since the court was moved to the new capital in 2006. At this stop is also the Queen Victoria garden with a large obelisk honoring the country’s independence. The city center is filled with many buildings remaining from the colonial period, although most of the buildings are in very poor condition and in need of repair and paint. Construction appears to be going on everywhere so they do seem to be improving parts of town. From here we proceeded to the 70-year-old Bogyoke Aung San Market, known as Scott’s Market, to stroll the more than 2,000 stalls. The market stalls are filled with masses of merchandise like jewelry, loose semi-precious stones, fabric, clothing, puppets, lacquer ware, woodcarvings, souvenirs and food stalls around the perimeter. Kent purchased a Marionette Puppet dressed in red that caught his eye.

For dinner we met several of the folks in our group to walk across the street to a very inexpensive Chinese restaurant.